Newly diagnosed: What you need to know
There are challenges for people with HIV, but living with HIV is no longer a death sentence. You can work and have a career. You can have a normal and long life with medication that suppresses the HIV virus. So it is important to know the current information that can help people manage HIV. Following are some basic things to think about when you are diagnosed for the first time.
When you are newly diagnosed, you may experience different stages of emotions when newly diagnosed. Some people say that, they had hundreds of questions in their mind when they found out they were HIV positive. It is important for any PLHIV to draw support from other people. There is no reason why you need to face these issues alone. Friends, families and partners can be a good source of support but if one someone is not ready to disclose their his or her status, there are different ways of finding support.
Finding an experienced and PLHIV-friendly doctor
Upon diagnosis, as People Living with HIV (PLHIV), you should have a good relationship with our doctors. In most countries in the Asia Pacific region, doctors are usually working from public facilities and are assigned to PLHIV upon diagnosis.
There are also options to get private doctors. The ideal doctor is easy to talk to, explains things clearly and has managed HIV before. Some doctors might also be fluent in several languages.
Doctors are not allowed to give someone’s medical information to anyone else, with your explicit consent or in very special circumstances. If someone is not happy with the quality of health care received from a doctor or other health professional, a complaint can be made to the local city department of health.
In cases of alleged discrimination a complaint can be made via the national human rights institution.
Other life-saving HIV related tests
As PLHIVs, you should have your CD4 count and Viral Load tested for proper monitoring:
- CD4 count: A CD4 count test determines the level of your immune system. This is also the basis doctors use to decide whether to start you on meds or not.
- Viral Load: Viral load refers to how much HIV is in your blood.
- Read a more in-depth explain of CD4 and Viral Load in our article on checking your health while being HIV+.
Having a sexual health check-up
You also need to have other tests to make sure no other infection is present in the body, or if there are other infections present, as these conditions need to be managed along with HIV. The most common tests that are recommended upon first diagnosis are the following:
- RPR (Rapid Plasma Reagin) - a screening test for syphilis;
- Viral Hepatitis Screening - Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV);
- and, other Sexually Transmittable Infections (STIs)
Ask your doctor about other tests needed and recommended after being diagnosed with HIV.
Need help finding a PLHIV-friendly doctor?
Check out SHIP (Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines) in Manila. Services range from HIV-screening, sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment and management, HIV treatment, care and support (TCS) provision, HIV and STI prevention or intervention and more. For more inclusive healthcare in other parts of Asia, head to our BE Navigator.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Continuing to smoke can be a barrier to improving health. Smokers who are HIV positive are more likely to get heart disease, different kinds of cancer and other infections. Men who smoke are also more likely to have erectile problems. Speak to your doctor for more information.
If quitting is hard, speak to a doctor about things that can help to stop smoking. There are also places that provide information and services to help stop smoking.
As people living with HIV, you may be susceptible to early heart disease and other diseases such as diabetes. To help stop these, it is important that you maintain a healthy weight by eating well and doing regular exercise.
A general multivitamin may be helpful if your diet isn’t well-balanced diet, but it cannot replace eating well. You can also reduce some of the side effects of HIV medicines with the types of food that you eat and when you eat them. Speak to your doctor or a HIV dietitian for more information.
Most importantly, stay positive, make informed decisions and live the rest of your life to the fullest.
Acknowledgement: This information has been adapted from the “Next Steps” booklet with permission from the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO).